Monday, August 12, 2013

Vampyres: Daughters of Dracula (1974)

Unrequited love and I are no strangers, but just as the muscle eventually grows stronger from the rigorous demands of exercise, so too do I grow more resistant to the sorrows of the lovelorn heart. It is sometimes an issue of attraction only going one way or knowing full well that the honest divulgence of true feelings will most certainly bring severe complications. In either case, it is perhaps best to take the noble route, walk the way of the hero, endure the pain – which will eventually subside in due time – and wish and bestow a fortunate and happy life upon that of the desired, even if I am not to be a part of that future.

Other times it is a matter of knowing when you are playing with fire and that the only best possible solution is to retreat for good, lest you find yourself meeting your doom in more ways than one. But alas, seduction sometimes overrules rational thought, and, like the lead in José Ramón Larraz’s languorous sexy vampire British horror, Vampyres: Daughters of Dracula; even with all routes of escape firmly planted while in the face of a deadly situation, the allure and honor of coalescing with that mysterious, sexy beauty once again somehow seems worth it.

A couple of lady vampires, Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska), haunt an old vacant mansion isolated in the woods. They seem to have a pretty efficient system for securing blood nourishment by hitchhiking rides from vulnerable English chaps and taking them back to their place. After enticing these poor gentlemen with delectable vintage wines from the cellar and seducing them, Fran and Miriam do their vampire business and leave the bodies inside their crashed vehicles on the road, making it look like an accident.




One peculiar instance involves Fran hitching a ride from Ted (Murray Brown), who I’m going to call the protagonist, even if that is a little iffy in this case. After leading him through the dusty old mansion to a surprisingly well maintained room, they bond a little over wine and make love. In every other instant the men are usually killed on the first night, but Fran and Miriam, unbeknownst to Ted, just drain him enough, as he sleeps or as he is in some sort of unconscious state, to not kill him. He awakens in the morning with a strange cut on his arm and no sign of Fran. Unable to leave from what is likely a mix of his falling in love with Fran, being a victim of the whole vampire seduction thing, and because of her disappearing just as mysteriously as she came, Ted stays behind waiting in his car all day for her to return.




There’s plenty of opportunities to postulate why Ted was not killed on the first night, unlike the others, left to leave on his own accord, but never doing so, becoming a prisoner in a way, fevered, seduced, and weakened severely from blood loss. I’m not sure if he quite understood what was happening to him, but he did notice Miriam’s lover suddenly dead in a wrecked vehicle on the side of the road, another man who came upon the same situation in the same manner as he.

During a love scene between Miriam and Fran, it is made apparent that Fran is playing some sort of dangerous game by keeping Ted alive, suggesting that she may like him more than the others, or maybe she enjoys prolonging his suffering, knowing with certainty that he’s fallen too heavy for her and the enigmatic game she plays to ever leave.




In addition, the story is kept from feeling too streamlined on Ted’s ordeal by having a couple, John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), who just so happen to pull up in their camper in the woods just outside of the mansion to enjoy a romantic getaway. Both of these characters do have a certain believability as a couple, and they do add additional depth to the story, with Harriet perceiving the peculiar activity at the mansion with concern, as John feels her imagination has gotten the best of her.

In case anyone was wondering who my favorite vampire is in this movie, it would have to be Fran. Miriam is nice, but I prefer the dark, strange beauty of Fran. If I had a choice of which one I would want to be seduced and victimized by, it would definitely be her. Yet they do seem to share in their blood feeding, so eventually it would become a ménage à trois (great wine, by the way) that definitely wouldn’t end well.




Certain odd peculiarities in the vampires’ behavior make for certain creepy instances, such as Fran appearing dead when Ted wakes up in the middle of the night to find her lying next to him, facing him with a blank stare and unmoving eyes. Also, right before the film’s gory money shot, the moment when Fran comes across Miriam in the hallway, leaning motionless, in a transfixed state of euphoria, against the window with the moonlight shining on the blood dripping down her lips, is quite possibly the best vampire imagery I’ve ever seen.

Though they have to hideaway and sleep during the day, there are a number of fantastic shots of Fran and Miriam moving briskly through the woods and a graveyard outside of a chapel in the foggy autumn daylight. I’m supposing that we are to assume it is dawn and they are retreating to a hiding place for the day or going about the business with the corpses in the wrecked motors.




I won’t avoid mentioning that there’s indeed a heavy languor to Vampyres: Daughters of Dracula that nonetheless feels very appropriate to the Gothic and moody vampire piece. A well centered story and an enjoyably sullen mood helps it along, keeping it from becoming too boring or uninteresting. Not only is it incredibly sexy, but it also feels like a Euro vampire movie done right, with the sensuality and viciousness in Larraz’s female vampires making Vampyres more impressive than the cheap and sleazy movie most might be expecting.




 

8 comments:

  1. I've owned a copy of this for years, and I've never gotten around to watching it. You make a good sales pitch. Now I have another title for my List Of Shame. lol

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    1. Thanks for reading, Brandon! I don’t know if I let them sit around for years, but I normally have a small stack of need to watch movies, some of which do turn out to be a pleasant surprise after sitting around unwatched for a while. This is especially true for a 50 movie pack I must’ve bought about a year ago that I am still digging into from time to time.

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  2. This is a great, great, great movie, and about as un-British as a British production could be. Director Larraz's more purely cinematic, free-floating, minimalist approach to the material--letting it drift along and tell its tale but never explaining anything--involves the viewer, and makes the film work on about a dozen different levels at once, throwing, at us, one striking image after another.

    I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the commentary track featuring Brian Smedley-Aston playing the straight man to Larraz--one of the definite high points of the form that will have you laughing your ass off throughout.

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    1. Hey, J! Thanks for backing me up with a high opinion of this film. My viewing companion lost interest and broke out the iPad about half way in, so I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I want to say the un-British feel you mention was likely due to the film having a Spanish director. However, I am not yet all that knowledgeable of Larraz’s other works; I’ve got my eyes set on Black Candles next. I haven’t watched Vampyres with the commentary track yet. It’s a habit I’ve fallen out of touch with lately for some reason, but I really should get back into it, as it would help me out with more insight when writing about these films.

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    2. Oddly enough, I'd just gotten my hands on Larraz's SYMPTOMS right before you wrote this. I haven't watched it yet, though.

      As to your viewing companion, we live in a world of Philistines, and must be tolerant of them, as they outnumber worldly sophisticates like you and I. VAMPYRES getting the ipad is pretty bad, but if TWILIGHT is raised as alternative viewing, explain the workings of the door, and how to avoid letting it strike one's posterior on the way out. There are limits to tolerance!

      If you're going to get back into the habit of commentaries, this is definitely one on which to start.

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  3. It seems your review, here, was, unfortunately, timely. I've just read that Jose Larraz has just died.

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    1. This news was briefly shocking for me, as, coincidentally this has happened twice before here. My respects go out to the memory of Jose Ramon Larraz, a filmmaker I am just getting to know. There’s a number of interesting looking titles to his filmography that I was planning on getting around to viewing. As it stands, Vampyres is still my only Larraz experience. I’m actually planning on watching Symptoms tonight.

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  4. Thanks for writing in such an encouraging post. I had a glimpse of it and couldn’t stop reading till I finished. I have already bookmarked you.

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